Bar coding medicines to the single unit

Medication errors are one of the most common causes of preventable adverse events in the healthcare system. A complete identification of a medicine, up to the moment of administration, is therefore a key element of a safe medicines dispensing procedure in hospitals.  Indeed, preliminary studies have suggested the use of bar codes on medicines up to the single unit can help to reduce medication error rates by 41.4%.  (Poon EG et al. Effect of Bar-Code Technology on the Safety of Medication Administration. N Eng J Med 2010;362:1698-707)

In recognition of the patient safety case, and the effect on reducing errors, it has been a regulatory requirement in the USA since 2006 that all pharmaceuticals products sold to hospitals must now bear a bar code on the smallest unit of use — the size dispensed to the patient. Bar coding of medicines to the single unit also assists in the management of medicines alerts and recalls.

The European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP) therefore calls on decision makers, politicians and national administrations to implement bar coding of medicines to the single dose administered in hospitals in national and European regulations.

See EAHP statement here.

See EAHP policy brochure here.

See EAHP response to European Commission consultation on the Unique Identifier for Medicinal Products (April 2012) here.

** Report of Leuven event on medicines bar coding HERE **


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Last update: 29 January 2016